Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
An adaptation for independent radio. By Tim Crook, August 1989.
Special sound or musical effects to enhance the rhythm and emotion of the poetic lines. River boat effects for Marlow's narration.
Voice of Conrad: Sea and sky welded without a joint, luminous space, tanned sails of barges, standing still. Red clusters of peaked canvas, gleams of varnished spirits. Haze resting on the low shores running out to sea in vanishing flatness. Air dark above Gravesend. Farther back London condensed in brooding gloom.
Voice of Kurtz: Between us all the sea bond. We are fit for nothing, but placid staring.
Voice of Conrad: The lawyer an old fellow with the only cushion on deck and lying on the only rug. The accountant with a box of dominoes, and toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow cross-legged, leaning on the mizzenmast, sunken cheeks, yellow skin, straight back, palms outwards like a monk, like an idol. Water shines peacefully, Sky without a speck, unstained light, Gauzy radiant fabric of mist on Essex marshes, draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Sun sinks low, from glowing white to dull red, without rays, without heat...
Voice of Kurtz: As though almost snuffed out... stricken to death by the touch of gloom, brooding over this crowd of men.
Voice of Conrad: Waters less brilliant more profound, Old river rest unruffled at fade of day, tranquil dignity stretching out to the ends of the earth.
Voice of Kurtz: This is not the vivid flush of a short day, but the August light of abiding memory. The great spirit of the past, the tidal current of men, of ships, of adventurers, and settlers, hunters for gold, pursuers of fame, all leave on this stream, bearing torch and sword, bearers of spark from the sacred fire, The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealth, the germs of empire floating on this ebb.
Voice of Conrad: The Sun set, dusk on the stream, lights upon the shore, Chapman Lighthouse shines strongly, Ship lights move in the fairway, Farther west still the brooding gloom of London.
Marlow: And this old river here..old river Thames has also been one of the dark places of the earth....There is a dark story here I can tell you...all rivers flow from some heart you know..
Voice of Kurtz: Marlow you follower of the sea, your home the ship, your country the sea, one ship very much like another, the sea always the same, no mystery but the sea, mistress of your existence, sea inscrutable as your Destiny. The meaning of your story not inside like a kernel, outside, enveloping your tale, as a glow brings out the haze, Misty halo bright in the spectral ray of moonshine:
Marlow: I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here nineteen hundred years ago- the other day really..and light has come out of this river since..It is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker - may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling!
Marlow: But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine...what d'ye call 'm? trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft. Imagine him here- the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina- and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages...precious little to eat for a civilised man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No wine, no going ashore..Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness..like a needle in a bundle of hay, cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile and death...death skulking in the air...in the water..in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh, yes, that commander did it..Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either..except afterwards to brag of what he had done through his time, perhaps...
Voice of Conrad: cheered up by the thought of promotion, good friends in Rome, survives the awful climate, Perhaps a decent young man in a toga, perhaps too much dice, coming out here to mend his fortunes, to trudge through the swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post..
Voice of Kurtz: Feel the savagery, the utter savagery, all that mysterious life, from the wilderness that stirs in jungles, in the hearts of wild men. He has to live in the incomprehensible, in the detestable. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.
Voice of Conrad: Marlow lifts one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, legs folded on deck in the pose of Buddha, preaching in European clothes, and without the lotus-flower.
Marlow: Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency - the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps..here on the Thames nineteen hundred years ago..yesterday really..they were no colonists. They were conquerors. And for that you want only brute force. Nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a grand scale, and men going at it blind- as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth means taking it away from those who have a different complexion, or slightly flatter noses than ourselves. It's not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.
Voice of Kurtz: The idea redeems, at the back of it, the idea, belief in the idea, you can set up, bow down before, offer a sacrifice to....
Voice of Conrad: flames glide in the river, small green flames. red flames, white flames, pursuing, overtaking, joining, crossing each other, then separating slowly, or hastily. Traffic of Great City, move on in deepening night, upon the sleepless river, look on patiently..
Voice of Kurtz: There's nothing else to do.
Marlow: I suppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for a bit..
Voice of Kurtz: But hear one of Marlow's inconclusive experiences.
Marlow: I don't want to bother you much with what happened to me personally..yet to understand the effect of it on me you ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I went up that river to the place where I first met the poor chap..
Marlow: It was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me - and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough too - and pitiful - not extraordinary in anyway - not very clear either. No not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light. When I was a little chap I had a passion for maps..I was lost in the glories of exploration. At the time it was the biggest blank, but now it's filled with rivers, lakes and names. A white space for a boy to dreams, glorious dreams; now one river and a space of darkness.
Voice of Kurtz: An immense snake uncoiled, Its head in the sea, its body curving, its tail lost in the depths of darkness.
Marlow: I remembered there was a big concern, a company for trade on that river...Dash it all! I thought to myself, they can't trade without using some kind of craft on that lot of fresh water - steamboats! Why shouldn't I try to get charge of one? I could not shake off the idea.
Voice of Kurtz: The snake has charmed.
Marlow: You understand it was a Continental concern, that Trading society, but I have a lot of relations on the Continent and after the men said 'my dear fellow' and did nothing...would you believe it? - I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work - to get a job. Heavens! I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul who would do anything, anything to get me appointed skipper of a river steamboat, if such was my fancy.
Secretary: So Mr Marlow you are a man of influence...
Marlow: I'm sorry?
Secretary: The right man for the right job
Marlow: I don't follow..
Secretary: at the right time and with the right connections..
Marlow: I hope so..I say I was wondering if you can recommend somewhere for me to stay before I go out...
Secretary: One of our apartments is free......your predecessor booked it for his leave, but he won't be needing it now..
Marlow: Why not?
Secretary: Dead...What was the fellow's name..so many like him pass through here..a Dane..Yes Fresleven...the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs..
Marlow: What happened to him?
Secretary: Cut to pieces by savages..still haven't found the body..I say while you're out there you wouldn't mind..
Marlow: Not at all..my pleasure..
Secretary: looking for it.. Bones and such like would be gratefully received...
Voice of Kurtz: Two years out here, engaged in the noble cause. Fresleven the Great Dane, and his two black hens. Thought the chief had nicked 'em, so he whacked 'em with a big stick, The crowd watched, the chief yelled, and his son jabbed him in the shoulder blades, and Fresleven is dead.
Voice of Conrad: And the population fled, found his shoes near the river bed, grass through his ribs, tall enough to hide the bones, they were all there, where he fell.
Voice of Conrad: Village huts gaped black, rotting. People vanished,
Voice of Kurtz: Mad terror,
Voice of Conrad: Scattered through the bush, Men women and children, all gone, Never to return. Never knew what became of the hens.
Marlow: I flew around like mad to get ready, and before forty eight hours I was crossing the Channel to show myself to my employers and sign the contract.
Voice of Conrad: Narrow, deserted streets, in deep shadow, high houses and venetian blinds. Dead silence,
Voice of Kurtz: City of Whited Sepulchre.
Voice of Conrad: Grass between the stones, Carriage archways, right and left. Double doors ajar, Marlow slipped through a crack, Swept up the ungarnished staircase, Arid as the desert. Two women, one fat, other slim, knitting black wool. Something ominous in the atmosphere, Something not quite right. Two women knitting black wool, feverishly, One old and fat, flat cloth slippers on the foot-warmer, cat sleeping on her lap, Starched white bonnet, silver-rim glasses on her nose tip, Younger one piloting youths in and out, back and forth, Old one on her chair, looking,
Voice of Kurtz: She knows all about them, and you too.
Voice of Conrad: Eerie feeling, uncanny, fateful, far away Marlow would think of these two women.
Voice of Kurtz: Guarding the door of darkness,
Voice of Conrad: Knitting black wool as for a warm pall, One introducing, introducing, continuously,
Voice of Kurtz: to the unknown.
Voice of Conrad: the other scrutinizing, foolish, cheery faces, with unconcerned old eyes.
Voice of Kurtz: Ave!
Voice of Conrad: Old knitter of black wool.
Voice of Kurtz: Morituri te Salutant!
Voice of Conrad: (as if quickly translating) Hail..those who are about to die salute you!
Voice of Kurtz: Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again.
Voice of Conrad: Young chap wearing a hat over his left eyebrow, Shabby, careless, ink-stains on the sleeves, cravat large and billowy, chin shaped like a toe of an old boot. Though house still as a house in a City of the dead, he came from somewhere upstairs and bought Marlow a drink.
Clerk: We are the fastest growing trading company in Western Europe. You are very privileged Mr Marlow...very privileged...nobody joining the company leaves without sharing her riches..We are at the frontiers of progress..the very frontiers..
Marlow: So you've been out there as well?
Marlow: To the frontiers..of progress..the very frontiers..to the river..
Clerk: I am not such a fool as I look..quoth Plato to his disciples. Manic awkward chuckle. There is a one man you have to visit. Drink up.
Marlow: Another visit?
Clerk: The old doctor...Your medical Mr Marlow..The company prides herself on the good health of her agents Mr Marlow...Everyone who leaves here..leaves in the very best of health...
Cross fade continental bar interior with interior ambience of consulting room.
Doctor: Good..good for there..Now..Ah..Mr Marlow..I was wondering if you would mind..
Doctor: if I could measure your head?
Marlow: Yes..I suppose so..
Doctor: Don't be alarmed..these calipers here measure your dimensions back and front and..and every way..(Scribbling on paper) one hundred and thirty centimetres..I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there...
Marlow: And when they come back, too?
Doctor: Oh, I never see them...and, moreover, (Smiling as if telling a quiet joke) the changes take place inside, you know. Scribbling note. Two hundred and forty..So! You are going out there. Famous. Interesting, too. Scribbling note. One hundred and seven point five.....Ever any madness in your family?
Marlow: Is that question in the interests of science, too?
Doctor: It would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot, but..
Marlow: Are you a psychiatrist?
Doctor: Every doctor should be...a little. I have a little theory which you messieurs who go out there must help me prove. This is my share in the advantages my country shall reap from the possession of such a magnificent dependency. The mere wealth I leave to others. Pardon my questions, but you are the first Englishmen coming under my observation...
Marlow: I assure you I am not the most typical..If I were..I wouldn't be talking to you like this..I would have punched you on the nose by now..
Doctor: What you say is rather profound..and probably erroneous...This is finished..
Marlow: Thank you..
Doctor: Avoid irritation more than exposure to the sun. Adieu..How do you English say, eh? Goodbye..Ah! Goodbye..Adieu..In the tropics one must before everything keep calm..Du calme, du calme..Adieu!
Cross fade with drawing room interior. Sound of canary twittering away and jumping about in a cage.
Fire crackling. Clink of tea cups
Marlow: You know I really think this is going to be the last decent cup of tea I shall have for many days...
Aunt: My dear Charlie..your last cup of tea in civilisation...and it's all my fault..Will you ever forgive me!
Marlow: Forgive! You have been my salvation! You have shown me the light...How did you do it Auntie?
Aunt: Ahaaa! Another cup...(Sound of tea pouring into bone china cup) I have had so much fun...It was a..a mission my dear Charlie...
Marlow: Perhaps it would be better if I didn't..
Aunt: But I have been dying to tell you..I was playing bridge with Madame Cochon..
Aunt: The wife of the company president..She has been very low since her dear son was thrown out of the academy...You know opium will be the very death of our young generation..We were all discoursing quite passionately on this subject...
Aunt: Madame Buvais..the wife of the Company secretary, Madame Oran the wife of the shipping Manager, and Madame Fonce...the wife of the Overseas Director...
Marlow: What a coincidence.
Aunt: We all agreed that there is great virtue in spreading enlightenment throughout the world..this should be the vocation of our young Apostles..Our workers in the darkest corners of the earth...And it was Madame Fonce I think..or was it Madame Oran? Anyway my dear Charlie where do we find our young apostles..our emissaries of light? Not in the opium dens I assured them...It's really a matter of finding the right people...Heavens I said..I just happen to know of an exceptional and gifted creature..a piece of good fortune for the company..a man you don't get hold of every day.
Marlow: I shall only be taking charge of a two-penny-half-penny river steamboat with a penny whistle attached..
Aunt: But you shall be carrying the torch of civilisation and decency into the very shadows of the wilderness..Think of the vocation..weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways!
Marlow: You have to consider the commercial interests..
Aunt: You forget, dear Charlie, that the Missionary is worthy of his hire!
Marlow: Well it's most kind of you Auntie..Words can't express my gratitude..I must be getting along..
Aunt: Of course..of course..there is so much to do..so much reading..so much contemplation..Now..(Big massive kiss on one cheek) Be sure to wear flannel...(Big massive kiss on the other cheek) and write as often as you can..
Marlow. Thames River Actuality: In the street outside..I don't know why...a queer feeling came to me..that I was an imposter. Odd thing that I, who used to clear out for any part of the world at 24 hours notice, with less thought then most men give to the crossing of a street had a moment ...I won't say of hesitation, but of startled pause...The best way I can explain it to you is saying that for a second or two, I felt as though instead of going to the centre of a continent, I were about to set off for the centre of the earth...
Voice of Conrad: Watching the coast, Africa slipping by, scolding the decks of an old French steamer. Landing soldiers and clerks in every damned port.
Voice of Kurtz: It's like thinking: Enigmatic. There it is, smiling coast, frowning coast, inviting, grand, mean, insipid coast. Savage.
Voice of Conrad: Mute with an air of whispering.
Voice of Kurtz: Come and find out.
Voice of Conrad: Edge of colossal jungle, so dark, so green, almost black. Fringed with white surf, like a ruled line. Glitter of blue sea, blurred by creeping mist. Fierce sun, land glistening and dripping steam. Greyish-whitish specks, settlements centuries old, Flags flying like pin-heads. Steamship, punching through boiling sea, landing soldiers, landing clerks, landing soldiers, flung out there in the surf, some drowning: no-one seems to care. Steamship pounding, past the trading places, Gran' Bassam, Little Popo...
Voice of Kurtz: This sordid farce...
Voice of Conrad: Isolation, No point of contact, oily, languid sea, Coast sombre, uniform...
Voice of Kurtz: Away from the truth of things, mournful, senseless delusion.
Voice of Conrad: Surf, Voice of reason, of meaning, natural. Now and then a boat, from the shore, blacks paddling, shouting, singing, the whites of the eyeballs, glistening, bodies steaming, bone, muscle...
Voice of Kurtz: Wild vitality.
Voice of Conrad: Natural, true as the surf. Needs no excuse for being there...Thames actuality.
Marlow: For a time I would feel I belonged still to a world of straight-forward facts, but the feeling would not last long. Something would turn up to scare it away...
West African coastal actuality. On board steam-ship. Shelling into the jungle and bush.
Marlow: What the hell's going on?
Swedish Captain: French Man-of-war.
Marlow: I can't see her ensign. This humidity. It's hanging limp like a rag.
Swedish Captain: She's just anchored there.
Marlow: And shelling the bush. Why are they firing?
Swedish Captain: Oh they've got one of their wars going on hereabouts.
Marlow: There's not even a shed out there...just bush.
Voice of Conrad: Long six-inch guns stuck out, greasy, slimy swell swinging up lazily, swaying her thin masts, empty immensity of earth, sky, water. There she is popping her feeble shells into the darkness. Incomprehensible.
Voice of Kurtz: Insanity.
West African coast actuality. Steam ship heaving to.
Marlow:(Shouting from his steamer to the French boat) Good morning!
French Seaman: Good morning monsieur!
Marlow: How are things?
French Seaman: They are fine. Have you any post for us?
Marlow: Yes. Can I come aboard?
French Seaman: We have fever aboard.
Marlow: How bad is it?
French Seaman: Three die every day. We'll throw you a line.
Marlow: What are you firing at?
French Seaman: What did you say?
Marlow: What are you firing at?
French Seaman: Enemies!
French Seaman: Over there. There's a camp of them..Natives.
Marlow: I can't see! I can't see them.
Voice of Conrad: Merry dance of death and trade, all along the still and earthy over-heated catacomb. Formless coast bordered by dangerous surf. Nature warding off intruders, in and out of rivers.
Voice of Kurtz: Streams of death in life.
Voice of Conrad: Banks rotting into mud, waters thickened into slime, invading the contorted mangroves, writhing at us..
Voice of Kurtz: Impotent despair...
Actuality of sea-going steamer along the coast.
Swedish Captain: Been living back there on the shore?
Swedish Captain: Fine lot these government chaps are they not? It is funny what some people will do for a few francs a month. I wonder what becomes of that kind when it goes up country?
Marlow: I expect I shall find out soon..
Swedish Captain: Sooo! Don't be too sure. The other day I had to pick up a man who hanged himself on the road..He was a Swede, too..
Marlow: Hanged himself! Why in God's name?
Swedish Captain: Who knows? The sun too much for him, or the country perhaps.
Voice of Conrad: Open reach and rocky cliff on the shore-line, mounds of turned-up earth, houses on a hill, iron roofs amongst a waste of excavations. People mostly black and naked, moving about like ants. Blinding sun-light in the sudden recrudescence of glare.
Swedish Captain: There's your company's station..I will send your things up..Four boxes did you say?
Swedish Captain: So farewell..
Voice of Conrad: Abandoned boilers, wallowing in the grass, under-sized railway truck, rusting in the humid heat, lying there on its back, wheels in the air, dead as a cattle carcass. Stacks of red-orange nails, machinery in decay.
Siren warning of dynamite charge. Running of feet. Explosion.
Voice of Conrad: The rock face shudders, but shakes off the dust and powder, unmoved.
Marlow: They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything but this objectless blasting was all the work going on.
F/X Clinking sound of men advancing in a file and chained together.
Voice of Conrad: Six black men, toiling up the path, erect and slow, heads balancing small baskets, full of earth, black rags wound round their loins, short ends waggling like tails..
Marlow: I could see every rib...
Voice of Conrad: Limb joins like knots in a rope..
Marlow: Each had an iron collar on his neck..
Voice of Conrad: Chain bights in a rhythm, choking neck to neck.
F/X Another detonation.
Marlow: I was reminded of that French Man of War firing aimlessly into the continent..
Voice of Kurtz: The same sound, the same voice, ominous.
Marlow: These poor blacks..by no stretch of the imagination could you call them enemies...
Voice of Kurtz: They are the criminals, the law is coming to them, like the bursting shells, insoluble mystery from the sea.
F/X Tired breathing and clanking chains.
Voice of Conrad: Meagre breasts panting, nostrils dilating, stony eyes staring..
Marlow: They passed me within six inches, without a glance...
Voice of Kurtz: Death-like.
Rhythmic tramping and clanking sound. Bush actuality. Cocking of rifle.
Guard: Stop! (Clanking stops) You! You! Stop! Who are you?
Marlow: D'accord! It's alright..D'accord!..I'm from the station..Arrived today!
Guard: Ha! From far all white men look the same..Haha!
Voice of Conrad: Uniform jacket with one button off, rifle clutched laconically at the middle. Large white teeth in rascally grin...
Marlow: What are you doing with these men?
Guard: These are criminals...Mistah Manager say savages..I don't know this word..Savage? Perhaps you tell me?
Marlow: Where are you taking them?
Guard: (Laughing out aloud somewhat manically) Hahaha!
Marlow: Why are you laughing?
Guard: Masta you know where! We are together no? Together we conquer..we rule..We make lots of money..
Loud crack of whip and guttural 'Ha' sound
Guard: Move..Savages..Hahahah. (laughter into the distance with clanking chains.)
Voice of Conrad: Past some vast artificial hole, dug out on the slope, No quarry, no sandpit, just one vast hole. Piles of smashed drainage pipes. Into the shade and rushing noise of rapids, that fills the mournful stillness.
F/X Groaning from tired dying men.
Voice of Kurtz: Into the gloomy circle of some inferno..
Voice of Conrad: Black shapes crouched, lay sat leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment,
Voice of Kurtz: despair..
F/X Another detonation.
Voice of Marlow: The work was going on. The work! And this place where the workers had withdrawn to die, dying slowly; not enemies, not criminals, nothing earthly now, nothing but the black shadows, disease, starvation, scattered in the greenish gloom, sickened, allowed to crawl away and die.
Voice of Kurtz: Free and thin as the air.
Voice of Marlow: I saw a face near my hand, black bones reclining, with one shoulder against the tree, slowly the eyelids rise, sunken eyes looking at me, enormous, vacant. Blind white flicker in the depths of the orbs dying out slowly. The man seemed young..almost a boy, but you know with them it's hard to tell. I found nothing else to do, but to offer him one of my good Swede's ship's biscuits I had in my pocket. His fingers closed slowly, holding the biscuit like a baby.. no other movement, no other glance. Thread of white worsted tied round his black neck, Why? An ornament? A charm? Startling white thread that came from beyond the seas.. I saw two more bundles of acute human angles. Legs drawn up, One chin propped on knees, staring at nothing. His phantom brother was resting his forehead, He was over-come in the weariness, and the rest were scattered in this dark pattern, this contorted collapse, this pestilence, this massacre. Rising to his hands and knees, I saw one crawling to the river to drink, lapping out of his loose hand, stretching out in the sunlight, arranging his shins, letting his tired head, fall on his breast-bone. I didn't want any more loitering in the shade and I made haste towards the station..where I was greeted by a vision from the city of whited sepulchre...
Voice of Conrad: White man, high starched collar, white cuffs, light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, clear necktie, varnished boots, no hat, hair parted, brushed, oiled, green-lined parasol, held in big white hand, penholder behind the ear..
Accountant: A very good day to you!
Marlow: (Distracted) I beg your pardon?
Accountant: I believe it is the fashion to shake hands..
Marlow: Indeed..My name is Marlow..Who are you?
Accountant: I am the chief accountant..I do all the book keeping at this station..I have come out just for a moment to get a breath of fresh air..
Accountant: It is normally rather pleasant here, but they've filled my office with a groaning truckle-bed.
Marlow: Ah. (Pretending to understand)
Accountant: Some invalid agent from up-country. The groaning of this sick person distracts my attention and without that it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in this climate.
Marlow: Of course..Um..There seems to be a lot of stock here..
Accountant: Cottons, beads, brass wire, niggers...cheap merchandise..We send it all up river into the darkness...and wait for the return trickle..the precious milk..the ivory..
Marlow: I was wondering if you would have any idea how long I'll be staying here?
Accountant: You'd better come into my office..Yes..I should have the answer written down somewhere..
Voice of Conrad: Loose horizontal planks, casting bars of sunlight, from his neck to heel, perched on a high stool, he wrote, pristine, and slightly scented.
Interior. Flies. Low breathing, groaning sound from sick agent.
Accountant: Never mind the flies..They stab more than they sting..I have some ointment..
Marlow: Thank you..But what about your friend here?
Accountant: You know..I don't think I had met him before..Hasn't said a word since they left him here..Don't even know his name..perhaps it's written down somewhere..I may have seen him before..coming here like you..but my memory is more confident with figures than with names and faces...
Accountant scribbling all the time into his books.
Marlow: How long have you been out here?
Accountant: Three years, forty seven days precisely.
Marlow: Forgive me for asking but I can't help wondering how you manage to sport such immaculate linen out here..
Accountant: (Embarrassed) I..I have been teaching one of the native women at this station..It hasn't been easy..like the rest of her breed, she has a congenital distaste for work..(Quickly changing the subject.) One day...in the interior you will no doubt meet Mr Kurtz..
Marlow: Who is Mr Kurtz?
Accountant: A first class agent!
Accountant: He is a very remarkable person.
Marlow: Where is he based?
Accountant: He's in charge of the most important trading post in the real ivory-country..at the very bottom of this pit..this dirty abyss..there!..Sends in as much ivory as all the others put together..
Increase level of flies and scratching of quill type pen on paper. Groaning of ill man growing thin and fading. Loud babble of voices and feet getting closer.
Accountant: What a frightful row! Ha! He does not hear a thing.
Marlow: What! Dead?
Accountant: Umm. No. Not yet...When one has got to make correct entries one comes to hate those savages..hate them to death..When you see Mr Kurtz tell him from me that everything here...is very satisfactory..I don't like to write to him..With those messengers of ours you never know who may get hold of your letter at that Central Station..Oh. He will go far, very far..He will be somebody in the administration before long..They above..the council in Europe, you know, mean him to be....
Voice of Conrad: In the steady buzzing of flies, lies an expiring agent, flushed, insensible, homeward bound. The money-man scratches his ledger, correcting entries, correcting transactions, and below his doorstep, fifty feet precisely, the grove of death, marked by the still tree-tops.
Marlow: Next day I left that station at last with a caravan of sixty men for a two hundred mile tramp..
Voice of Conrad: Paths, paths everywhere, stamped in network of paths, spreading over the empty land, up chilly ravines, up and down stony hills, ablaze with heat.
Voice of Kurtz: Solitude, solitude..nobody.
Voice of Conrad: Not a hut. Every form and cottage, empty. Ruins of grass walls, Camp, cook, sleep, marching now and then a carrier dead in harness. At rest in the long grass, empty water gourd, long staff lying by his side, in the great silence. Tremor of far off drums, sinking, swelling, weird, appealing, suggestive,
Voice of Kurtz: Wild....
Voice of Conrad: White man in unbuttoned uniform, camping in the path, hospitable, festive and drunk.
Sound of men tramping through bush
White Man: Good God! What is this? A herd of old elephants! Stand and Deliver I tell you! Your money or your soul, and failing that any gossip for the Central Station!
Marlow: You should be careful waving that rifle of yours..You might end up shooting the wrong person..
White Man: And where on earth do you think you're going?
Marlow: We're on our way to the Central Station..I might ask what on earth you're doing?
White Man: Upkeep of the road dear boy..
White Man: This is our lifeline to the darkness..There are many dangling on the end of it..You will be if you ever get as far as Kurtz..
Marlow: Does upkeep include leaving a middle-aged negro with a bullet-hole in his forehead three miles back?
White Man: I would have considered that a permanent improvement..
Marlow: Do your friends concern themselves with the upkeep of the road as well?
White Man: If you're referring to my faithful Zanzibaris, I can assure you of one thing...you'll never find a more loyal dog than a Zanzibari with a carbine..They can trepan the brains of pygmies at a range of three hundred yards...
Fat Man: (Panting, out of breath) I say..are we going to get a move on..It's so hot and humid here..I'm afraid I'm beginning to feel rather faint..there's not the least bit of shade and water for miles..Oh God! I feel so weak...
Marlow: You've been fainting on hot hill-sides since we left the coast. I'm getting fed up with wasting valuable travelling time holding my coat over your fat head like a parasol while you come to..
Fat Man: Oh god..I can't take this heat..I'm going to have to sit down.
Marlow: (Losing temper) I can't help asking why you came out here at all?
Fat Man: To make money of course...What do you think?
Voice of Conrad: Fat man, all sixteen stone, Boiling in a fever, waddling in his hammock, slung under a long pole. Rows with the carriers. They run away, sneaking off with their loads in the night.
Marlow (in narration.) One evening I made a speech in English with gestures not one of which was lost to the sixty pairs of eyes before me, and the next morning I started the hammock off in front alright...
Loud crack of wood. Thumping sound. Sound of people running off. Loud howl from fat man.
Fat Man: Ahhhhh! Save me! Save me! I'm dying!
Marlow: What the hell?
Fat Man: After them! After them! Assassins!
Marlow: Don't be so ridiculous. What on earth's going on.
Fat Man: They tossed me..tossed me..a poor sick dying invalid..into the ditch..now I'm bleeding to death.
Marlow: Sit still for God's sake. Ah. It's only your nose..must have caught the pole when it snapped. Take this blanket..It'll staunch the blood. Where are all the carriers?
Fat man: I don't know. After them! Shoot them! Staves and bullets is the only language these savages understand!
Marlow: How would you like to carry 16 stone on a hammock hundreds of miles through bush?
Fat Man: This has gone too far. You have to kill one of them here and..(stamping his fist on the ground with emphasis) now!
Marlow: Perhaps you would be kind enough to point out the target? Where shall I take aim? They have all disappeared! Perhaps if I kill one for you they will all come back? You thinks so eh?
Fat man: (Blubbering) I don't know..I'm a sick man..I have to be carried. They can't leave me here!
Marlow: (in narration) I remembered the doctor.
Doctor Echoed. It would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals on the spot.
Marlow: (in narration) I felt I was becoming scientifically interested. However all that is to no purpose. On the fifteenth day I came in sight of the big river again, and hobbled into the central station..
Voice of Conrad: Backwater surrounded by scrub and forest, Smelly mud on the west side, East, North and South enclosed by crazy fence of rushes. White men with long staves, strolling up languidly...
Marlow: My name is Marlow..I have come to captain the steam-boat up river!
Man with stave: Yes. Yes. Of course..We have been..uh..have been expecting you..Marlow?
Marlow: Yes. That is my name.
Man with stave: Indeed it is.
Marlow: Is everything alright?
Man with stave: Just so. Just so..You have had a good trip then?
Marlow: Not particularly. I'm itching to take a hold of the wheel.. to feel the flow of water beneath my feet. It'll make a change from walking..
Man with stave: Capital! Just Capital!
Marlow: Well then..
Man with stave: Well, well!
Marlow: Where is it?
Man with stave: Where what?
Marlow: My steam-boat. I need to go aboard.
Man with stave: The steam-boat..Yes..You will find it..you will find it at the bottom of the river.
Marlow: What! Is this some joke?
Man with stave: Not at all.
Marlow: How on earth...
Man with stave: It is alright. I can assure you..the manager was there himself.
Marlow: Why? Why?
Man with stave: All was quite correct. Everybody has behaved splendidly...splendidly..You must..
Marlow: I don't care if..
Man with stave: Now you must go and see the general manager at once. He is waiting!
Marlow: How can you sink a steamer before the captain has even arrived to take the helm?
Man with stave: Oh somebody volunteered..We had no choice. Two days ago. We had to hurry up the river with the manager on board, but three hours later the stones tore the bottom out. You'll find her in the water somewhere near the South bank.
Marlow: What am I doing here? What am I supposed to do now my boat is lost?
Man with stave: You must see the manager. He is waiting!
Voice of Conrad: Cold, blue eyes, glance as trenchant and heavy as an axe. Indefinable, faint expression on the lips, a smile- not a smile; this smile unconscious, coming at the end of speeches like a seal on the meaning of words...
Voice of Kurtz: Uneasiness...
Voice of Conrad: No learning, and no intelligence, But triumphant health, three years out here, and never ill. Originating nothing, keeping the routine going. What controls such a man?
Voice of Kurtz: Perhaps there is nothing within him.
Voice of Conrad: Diseases lay low agents, But the manager keeps smiling.
Manager: Men who come out here should have no entrails!
Voice of Conrad: He seals this utterance, with that smile of his, like the door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping. You fancied you had seen things, but the seal is on. He eats at a round table. Where he sits is the first place, the rest are nowhere. Neither civil, nor uncivil, Quiet. And his negro boy, over-fed and rather fat, treats the white man with insolence.
Manager: You have been a very long time on the road.
Marlow: We've come a long way..had hundreds of miles to cover on foot.
Manager: I couldn't wait for you. We had to start without you. You see the situation is very grave.
Marlow: That agent they sent with me..he wasn't fit for such a long trip.
Manager: The upriver stations had to be relieved. There had been so many delays already. I didn't know and I still don't know who is dead and who is alive and how they got on...
Marlow: This agent was fainting every five hundred yards. It's hard making progress when you have to drag a sixteen stone hammock through the bush..
Manager: The situation is very grave, very grave. A very important station is in jeopardy..Its chief...is ill, or so we fear. I hope it is not true..Mr Kurtz was..
Marlow: Kurtz! I heard about him on the coast.
Manager: Ah! So they talk of him down there? You see Mr Kurtz is the best agent I have. He is an exceptional man of the greatest importance to the company. You must understand my anxiety.
Marlow: Yes, of course.
Manager: The situation is very grave. I am very, very uneasy...I was wondering..how long it would take to...
Marlow: How can I tell? I haven't even seen the wreck yet. Some months no doubt.
Manager: You see if you had not taken so much time travelling here, the accident, no doubt, would not have happened. Some months you say..Well, let us say three months before we can make another start...Yes..that ought to do the affair.
Marlow: (in narration) I went to work the next day, turning so to speak, my back on that station..In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. In this station, these men stroll aimlessly in the sunshine of the yard. What does it all mean? Wandering here and there with their absurd, long staves. What are these for? Faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence.
Voice of Kurtz: Ivory, Ivory, Ivory...
Voice of Conrad: Whispered, sighed.. they are praying to it. Taint of imbecile rapacity blowing through it all..
Voice of Kurtz: Like a whiff from some corpse.
Marlow: (in narration.) I've never seen anything so unreal in my life.
Voice of Conrad: Outside, This silent wilderness, This great, invincible wilderness.
Voice of Kurtz: Like evil, or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.
Evening African environment actuality. Sudden whoosh and explosion of flames. Distant shouting.
Man with stave: This way...we can get water here!
Marlow: What's all this noise?
Man with stave: There's been an explosion. The shed has gone up! Whoosh! All the calico, cotton print, beads, and goods we use to buy the ivory from the savages..Here dip your pans! There's still time! Everybody is behaving splendidly....Splendidly! (Tearing back)
Marlow: Hey! There's a hole in the bottom...You're losing all the..what's the use...
Loud screaming of native being beaten nearby
African: No, no! Not me Mistah!
Marlow: What on earth are you doing?
Fat man: This little nigger started it. (Thump)
African: No! Leave me mistah!
Marlow: Don't you think you'd be using your energy more usefully putting water on it..instead of spilling blood?
Fat man: It's too late now..The whole thing's collapsed..just a heap of embers. Look at it!
Marlow: Quite. There appears to be little point in doing anything.
Distant conversation drawing near
Manager: Kurtz remains the problem..
Station spy: But there must be a way of taking advantage of this unfortunate accident..
Marlow: Good evening..
Manager: Ah..good evening..Did you ever see anything like it, eh? It is incredible. Well, Labouche..I leave you with this..perhaps you'll be able to make head or tail of it..Good night...
Labouche: Good night Monsieur le directeur..So you are Marlow..our station mariner..Here to captain us into the heart of darkness..
Marlow: A mariner is not much use without his vessel..
Labouche: But I hear you are well qualified in building yourself one...
Labouche: Marlow, I've been meaning to talk to you. Perhaps you would be kind enough to come to my room.
Interior. Striking of a match.
Marlow: A whole candle....I thought the manager is the only man supposed to have any right to candles...
Marlow: I take it from all the spears, shields and knives you have hung up here that you take care of the hunting side of the station's business..
Marlow: Then..what is your business?
Labouche: I make bricks!
Marlow: But I haven't seen a fragment of brick anywhere in the station..
Labouche: That is correct, Marlow..I have been here for a year now...
Marlow: For what?
Labouche: Well you cannot repair your steamboat without rivets and I cannot make my bricks without straw..
Marlow: There is plenty of grass in the bush...can't you make do with that?
Labouche: I need a particular kind of straw....It cannot be found here..
Marlow: As it is unlikely it will ever be sent from Europe it is not clear to me what you are waiting for..a special creation perhaps..
Labouche: We are all waiting..all sixteen or twenty of us are all waiting for something...
Marlow: It is an uncongenial occupation. It would appear to me the only thing coming to you is disease.
Labouche: There is the hope of getting to a trading post..the ivory..the percentages..But you and your friends in Europe know about all that..
Marlow: My friends?
Labouche: You mean your friends did not tell you?
Voice of Conrad: Little eyes glittering like mica discs, back-biting and intriguing, plotting..
Voice of Kurtz: Unreal as everything else, as their talk, as their government, as their show of work, hate, nothing but hate.
Labouche: You must tell me about your friends..they sound very intriguing...
Marlow: I don't suppose they are...I do not imagine that they wish to be known by you..
Labouche: Loud irritating yawn.
Marlow: Who painted this?
Labouche: You like it?
Voice of Conrad: Draped and blindfolded, woman with the lighted torch, in the sombre blackness, in her stately movement, her face in the torch-light,
Marlow: Who painted this?
Labouche: Mr Kurtz painted this...in this very station more than a year ago...while waiting for means to go to his trading post.
Marlow: Tell me, pray...who is this Mr Kurtz?
Labouche: The chief of the Inner Station.
Marlow: I am much obliged. (Laughing) And you are the brickmaker of the Central Station. Everyone knows that! (Still laughing)
Labouche: (Not appreciating the joke.) He is a prodigy..He is an emissary of pity, and science and progress and devil knows what else..We want for the guidance of the cause entrusted to us by Europe, so to speak, higher intelligence, wide sympathies, a singleness of purpose..
Marlow: Who says that?
Labouche: Lots of them..Some even write that and so he comes here..a special being..as you ought to know..
Marlow: Why ought I to know?
Labouche: (Ignoring him) Yes..today he is Chief of the best station...next year he will be assistant manager, two years more and...But I dare say you know what he will be in two years' time. You are of the new gang..the gang of virtue...The same people who sent him specially also recommended you. Oh, don't say no. I've my own eyes to trust..
Marlow: Ha! Do you read the company's confidential correspondence? When Mr Kurtz is General Manager...you won't have the opportunity.
Labouche blows the candle out.
Voice of Conrad: Outside the moon has risen, black figures strolling listlessly, pouring water hissing in the glow, steam ascending in the moonlight...
Black native groaning in pain.
Man with Stave: What a row the brute makes..Serves him right. Transgression, punishment...Bang! Pitiless, Pitiless- that's the only way..This will prevent all conflagrations for the future...(Loud thumps as he strikes the man again.) I was just telling the manager..Ah! Labouche..Not in bed yet? It's so natural..Ha!..Danger..Agitation..
Labouche: Heap of muffs..go to!
Murmuring as pilgrims disperse with embarrassment.
Voice of Conrad: Knots of pilgrims, gesticulating staves..
Join and merge voices of Marlow and Conrad.
Marlow: I verily believed they took these staves to bed with them..
Voice of Conrad: Forest standing up, spectrally in the moonlight, the silence of the land, striking home to the very heart..
Kurtz: Mystery, greatness...this amazing reality.
Labouche: My dear sir..I don't want to be misunderstood and especially by you...who will see Mr Kurtz long before I can have that pleasure..I wouldn't like him to get a false idea of my disposition..You see it's a matter of position..(Fade this speech under the next one) and prospects..We are all entitled to our own expectations which are understandably rooted in the necessary hierarchy of experience and service and waiting..Yes it's really a matter of waiting you see..We are all waiting for our prospects to materialise..
Marlow in narration: I let him run on- this papier-maché Mephistopheles..and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him and I would find nothing inside, but a little loose dirt, maybe..
Labouche: (Continuing) You see I have been waiting to take on the onerous responsibility of assistant manager under the present man and well...you see Mr Kurtz has arrived late in respect of myself and the manager and it seems he will be leaving ahead of us..and this pattern of opportunity it seems is quite beyond our control...It is determined so it seems from Europe and among the people you know so well..
Voice of Conrad: Wrecked steamer hauled up on the slope, Like the carcass of some big river animal, smell of mud, primeval mud in the nostrils, before the eyes, shiny patches of black creek, moon spreading thin layers of silver over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation, standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river, glittering, glittering, flowing broadly, great, mute, expectant. What are we who have strayed in here? What was in there?
Marlow, narration: You know I hate, detest and can't bear a lie not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me...There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies..which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world..What I want to forget..It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do..Well I went near enough to it by letting the young fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe.
Voice of Conrad: Kurtz is just a word. Do you see him? Do you see anything? Do you see the story?
Voice of Kurtz: I am trying to tell you a dream. Absurdity. Surprise. Bewilderment in a terror of struggling revolt. We live as we dream, Alone.
Labouche: We have to find some way of making a mark (Fade under next speech) in all this. For many of us circumstances do not fall into the same easy pattern that Mr Kurtz would seem to enjoy...Good fortune and bad fortune. They are as interchangeable as the sides of a coin when spun into space.
Marlow in Narration: Yes..I let him run on..and think what he pleased about the powers that were behind me..I did and there was nothing behind me! There was nothing but that wretched, old mangled steamboat I was leaning against..
Labouche: Yet there is this necessity for every man to get on..And when one comes out here, you conceive, it is not to gaze at the moon...No doubt you agree with me Mr Kurtz is a universal genius..Your friends in Europe well know that..but even a genius would find it easier to work with adequate tools..Of course I am talking about intelligent men..I do not make bricks..Why? Because as you are well aware..there is a physical impossibility in the way..If I do secretarial work for the manager it is because no sensible man would wantonly reject the confidence of his superiors..Do you understand? Do you see what I am getting at?
Marlow: Yes..Yes of course.
Labouche: Is there anything else for you to understand? I mean what more do you want?
Marlow: Well..what I really want is rivets!
Marlow: To get on with the work..to stop the hole in this..(Bangs hollow steel side of the boat) Rivets are what I want. There were cases of them down at the coast...cases piled up..burst..split open!
Labouche: Surely there are some..
Marlow: You can kick a loose bloody rivet every second step in that station yard down the coast....They rolled into the hands of the dying negros..You can fill your bloody pockets with rivets and there's not one bloody rivet to be found where it is wanted!
Labouche: I can assure you everything is done to ensure the proper supply of materials for the maintenance of....
Labouche: Why only yesterday a caravan brought in iron plates.
Marlow: We had plates that would do..but nothing to fasten them with...
Labouche: The caravan from the coast comes here several times a week with every conceivable requirement..
Marlow: What can I do with glass beads? That ghastly glazed calico and those confounded spotted cotton handkerchiefs..Caravans several times a week and no rivets..All it wants is three carriers..They can bring all that's needed to set this dear old steamboat afloat and chugging up river...
Labouche: Look Marlow...I...We are all vulnerable..We are always wondering who is going to stand in the way of personal progress..but I can tell you in confidence..I fear neither God, nor Devil...let alone any mere man.
Marlow: I can see that very well..but what I want is a certain quantity of rivets...I am sure Rivets are what Mr Kurtz really wants too..
Labouche: I send letters to the coast every week..My dear sir, they are written from dictation..
Marlow: In the same way you make bricks..but Mr Kurtz needs rivets..
Labouche: (Change of attitude) I was wondering if while sleeping on board this steamer every night you have been disturbed by an old hippo that has the habit of getting out on the bank at night and roaming all over the station grounds...We have often turned out in a body of men here and emptied every rifle we could get our hands on into him...Some of the pilgrims here have sat up all night for him...
Marlow: What a waste of energy..
Labouche: That animal has a charmed life..but you can say this only of brutes in this country..No man..you understand me?...no man here bears a charmed life...
Voice of Conrad: Mica eyes glittering without a wink, Delicate hooked nose a little askew, in the moonlight.
Labouche: Good night Marlow...(Angrily) Good night!
Change of actuality to indicate change of location and time.
Marlow: Hello Antoine..dreaming of home and your pigeons..
Antoine: Yes Captain..Dreaming in the darkness..Pigeons can find their way through the darkness..yet we fumble and crack our knees and elbows..
Marlow: (Slapping him on the back) Hey! We shall have rivets!
Antoine: No? Rivets? Good for you!
Marlow: (Shouting out loud) Riiiiiveehts!
Antoine: (As in a chant) Rivets! Rivets! Rivets! Rivets!
Marlow: Rivets! Rivets! Rivets! (Join into a rhythmical chant, clattering on the metal decks. Continue manic dance and hysterical chanting of 'rivets'.)
Voice of Conrad: Silence driven away by stamping feet, flowing, flowing back again and again from the recesses of the dark land. Great wall of vegetation, Exuberant, entangled mass of trunks, branches, leaves, boughs, festoons, Motionless in the moonlight.
Voice of Kurtz: Rioting invasion of life, soundless.
Voice of Conrad: Rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested. Ready to topple over the creek...
Voice of Kurtz: ...to sweep every little man out of his little existence...
Voice of Conrad: But it moves not...Only the hippo in a deadened burst of mighty splashes, snorting from afar..In a soar of darkness bathing in the pewter glitter of the great river.
Breathless and exhausted.
Antoine: Why shouldn't we get the rivets!
Marlow: Why not indeed!
Antoine: I do not know of any reason why we shouldn't...
Marlow: They will come in three weeks..
Marlow in Narration: But they did not...Instead of rivets there came an invasion, an infliction...a visitation...
Voice of Conrad: Caravans and caravans of pilgrims, Arriving section by section, crowned by a white man on a donkey, Crisp, white, new clothes and tan shoes, bowing to the left and the right, footsore, sulking natives, treading on the heels, quarrelsome.
Voice of Kurtz: Absurd air of disorderly flight.
Voice of Conrad: Loot and mass of things, tents, campstools, tin boxes, and white cases.
Voice of Kurtz: Looking like the spoils of thieving.
Sound of bustling. Ugly grunting and ordering about of natives. Harsh edge to voices.
Marlow: Good afternoon Missionaries! We haven't had the pleasure of being introduced..
Uncle and Associates: (Laughing) We call ourselves the Eldorado Exploring Expedition. (More laughter)
Marlow: So you have come in search of precious souls to save!
Uncle's Associates: A: We shall milk them, dear boy..for all they're worth..
(One man muttering 'Onward Christian Soldeirs' in a drunk manner)
B: We are carrying out a scientific survey on the joys of hunting the negro maiden-head!
More lewd laughter.
C: We are the true pilgrims of progress.
D: Altogether: Ivory! Women! Money!
Voice of Conrad: This is the march of sordid buccaneers; Greedy without veracity; Cruel without courage; Desiring to tear out the treasure from the bowels of the earth.
Voice of Kurtz: No more moral purpose than burglars breaking into a safe.
Labouche: Well Marlow..We will have some entertainments now..
Marlow: Am I to have my rivets?
Labouche: Even that requirement may be in the air..
Marlow: You know who is leading this mob?
Labouche: The uncle of the manager.
Voice of Conrad: The butcher of a poor neighbourhood. Eyes with a look of sleepy cunning. Fat paunch on short legs, like an over-fed labrador.
Marlow: He spends all his time speaking to his nephew in some everlasting confab..
Labouche: He is the leader of the expedition..
Marlow: Hang the bloody rivets..I've given up worrying about them...more time for meditation....more time to think about Mr Kurtz..
Labouche: Mr Kurtz?
Marlow: I am still curious to see whether this man will climb to the top after all and how he will set about his work when up there...
END OF PART ONE
This is the first part of the Heart of Darkness script by Tim Crook. We have a separate file for Part Two.
Joseph Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857 in a part of Poland which is now in the Ukraine. He was orphaned at the age of 12 and was then brought up by his maternal uncle. At the age of 16 he went to Marseille in France to learn seamanship and spent many years travelling and working on ships. Although Conrad wrote in English, it was actually his fourth language (after Polish, Russian and French).
There are many websites about Joseph Conrad which you can visit, including:
Joseph Conrad at Wikipedia
Joseph Conrad Society (UK)
Cliff’s Notes on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness & The Secret Sharer
Heart of Darkness at Wikipedia
Article in The Telegraph about Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
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